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Yo-Yo Ma's Bach Project comes to Christchurch for free event


In an extraordinary public event in Ōtautahi/Christchurch on 13 November, the rivers and water of Canterbury will be acknowledged through song and weaving. Waiata ki te Wai / Songs for water invites the public to gather on the banks of the Ōtākaro/Avon River to sing waiata together and listen to stories, karakia and music in celebration of the way water connects us.

Artists Juliet Arnott of Rekindle and Kerepeti Paraone (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Hine) conceived Waiata ki te wai in response to a commission from the acclaimed American cellist Yo-Yo Ma as part of his Bach Project. The Bach Project asks us to consider how culture connects us and helps us imagine a better future. In response to this invitation, Juliet and Kerepeti created an event that they hope will invite feelings of connectedness both with water and each other because a relationship to water is something we all rely upon.

The artists explain, “Just as Yo-Yo chooses to play Bach because it speaks to our common humanity at a time when our civic conversation is so often focused on division’, so too do we feel drawn to celebrate our universal relationship with water.”

Both artists are weavers, Kerepeti is a musician and Juliet has a variety of singing experiences in her past. Bringing together music, waiata and weaving to celebrate water was a natural response to Yo-Yo Ma’s brief to demonstrate the power of culture to “help us understand our environment, each other and ourselves.”

For the event talented kairaranga (weavers) and musicians of Ōtautahi/Christchurch will perform with Yo-Yo Ma. The kairaranga will weave seated on the banks of the river while the musicians play. Marlon Williams will do a special performance with Yo-Yo Ma. Also performing are Sistah Waitoa, Project Miere, a group of instrumentalists led by Tamara Smith, Ruby Solly, and Phil Dadson.

Juliet and Kerepeti want the public to participate by singing two of the waiata. The first is Purea Nei, a well known waiata by adapted by Hirini Melbourne from a waiata written by Henare Mahanga. The second is Te Wai Tuku Kiri, a local waiata composed by Te Rita Papesch and adapted by Puamiria ParataGoodall for Te Taumutu Rūnanga. Kerepeti explains that this second waiata was selected “because speaks about the life giving properties that water has in moving through different states as it makes its way to the sea.”

As part of the event, people from the region who have been working to care for the rivers of Waitaha/Canterbury will also be acknowledged. “One of the powerful motives in this work for me,” says Juliet, “relates to the desire to acknowledge those who work & have worked for many years to care for the waterways of this region. Coming together to celebrate the role of kaitiaki feels vital in relation to the future as this is where hope lies.”

The event is first and foremost a celebration - of water, of art and culture, of people and place. As Yo-Yo Ma explains, his Bach Project is intended to explore and celebrate “all the ways that culture makes us stronger as individuals, as communities and as a society and as a planet.” Kerepeti hopes, that “attendees get a sense of connection to the kaupapa (purpose) and are inspired to be active in their own small way towards looking after the environment around them.”

Ngāi Tūāhuriri Rūnanga and Ngāi Tahu will formally welcome Yo-Yo Ma to Ōtautahi. The other Bach Project events in Ōtautahi/Christchurch include a free public conversation event at The Piano from 1.30pm on 13 November with Christchurch youth (rangatahi) coming together with Yo-Yo Ma to reflect on the role of water in our diverse cultures, and an invitation only workshop with Ngāi Tahu artists.

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